Friday, December 29, 2023

Oregon mother appeals court ruling in religious discrimination adoption case

An Oregon mother of five has appealed a court’s ruling against her in a case alleging that the government is religiously discriminating against her by refusing to allow her to adopt children from the state system.

Jessica Bates filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s Department of Human Services earlier this year after she was denied the opportunity to adopt a child because she refused to express support for gender ideology and homosexuality.

To obtain certification from the state foster care system, a prospective parent must agree to “respect, accept, and support the … sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression … of a child or young adult” who is placed in the home, according to the state’s policy. Bates, a Christian, said she would not agree to those rules if they conflicted with her religious beliefs. 

A district court ruled against Bates in November, arguing in part that “invalidating and disaffirming a child’s LGBTQ+ identities” would “diminish the rights of children in [Oregon Department of Human Services] care” who claim those identities. 

Attorneys with the legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced this month that Bates would be filing an appeal on that ruling with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, with ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse describing Bates as “a loving mother who feels called to adopt siblings under the age of 10 from foster care.”

Despite that, “the state of Oregon is categorically excluding her from adopting any child because Jessica shares a view held by millions of Americans: that boys and girls are biologically different and should cherish that difference, not reject it,” Widmalm-Delphonse said. 

“Because Jessica will not promote Oregon’s radical gender ideology to children under the age of 10, the state considers her an unfit parent and has deprived hundreds, if not thousands, of children in Oregon’s system of the opportunity to be raised in a loving home,” the lawyer argued. 

Widmalm-Delphonse said ADF was urging the 9th Circuit “to allow Jessica to continue her adoption journey and provide a loving home to children in need.”

Bates’ lawsuit argued that the state’s regulations on sexuality and pronouns violate her First Amendment right to free speech because they restrict how she would raise an adoptive child.

Lawyers with ADF argued that “sharing her faith with her children” and “refrain[ing] from certain speech like neopronouns” is protected speech under the First Amendment. 

The foster care advocacy group Project 48 says there are “approximately 5,346 kids in foster care in Oregon.”

Bates lost her husband, David, in early 2017 when Idaho resident Anthony Montwheeler plowed into their car in a head-on collision that killed David and grievously injured Bates herself. 

Montwheeler eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and third-degree assault; he was also convicted of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of his ex-wife Annita Harmon.

Bates, who shared five children with David, told the media after the tragedy that “faith in God is the biggest help I have.” 

“I feel like God is my rock, he is the one who gives me hope,” she said.